September 17, 2008

Insights into the upcoming season

Story: Judy Richter
Photo: Dana Stewart

It was a sunny, pleasantly cool afternoon at Vino Locale in Palo Alto as 53 Fast Break Club members and Stanford staffers enjoyed great wine and food along with some insights into the upcoming season at the annual Wine Tasting on Sept. 14.

Looking relaxed after vacationing in Minnesota, Coach Tara VanDerveer highlighted the afternoon by speaking to the group. After thanking those who had made the event possible, she introduced her coaching staff: Amy Tucker, Bobbie Kelsey and Kate Paye. She also noted that former player Heather Owen, ’98, will serve a one-year internship to work on marketing and development for the team. “Heather is a worker,” Tara said, saying that she’ll put into practice some of the ideas that the coaches and others have had.

Tara then looked back at 2007-08, when the Stanford women made it all the way to the NCAA national championship game in Tampa. “It was so exciting,” she said of the season. “Our team wanted to keep playing with each other. You can’t buy that.” The star of that team, guard Candice Wiggins, ’08, is expected on campus this fall to complete the coursework for her degree. She suffered a torn meniscus in her right knee late in the Minnesota Lynx’s season and will have surgery.

As for this season, “Our freshmen are arriving on campus,” Tara said, and would attend the team’s first meeting that evening. The only missing player would be senior forward Morgan Clyburn, who was stranded in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Ike. She was expected to arrive in the next couple of days.

Morgan won’t be playing right away because of surgery on both feet – one at a time – but “she expects to be able to play” eventually, the coach said. Junior center Jayne Appel also will be out of action for a while as she continues to recuperate from shoulder surgery, but she’ll be close to readiness by the first game. “She looks great,” Tara said. Juniors Michelle Harrison, center, and Melanie Murphy, guard, have been cleared to play after recovering from knee surgery last season. “Our main goal is to keep everyone healthy,” Tara said.

Once everyone is healthy, the team will field 15 players – seven guards and eight forwards. With Mel and Michelle injured, the team fielded only 11 players for most of last season. Only two, Candice and fellow guard Cissy Pierce, were seniors, so Tara is looking forward to greater depth. She’s hoping to have the kind of options that the gold medal-winning USA women’s basketball team of superstars had at the Beijing Olympics this summer.

With that greater depth, especially at the post, last year’s starters – 6-4 Jayne and 6-4 sophomore Kayla Pedersen -- “are excited they get to foul,” Tara said. “We can be more physical. We can look at more options,” she said. She was referring to the addition of freshman forwards Sarah Boothe, 6-5, and Nneka Ogwumike, 6-2, along with the return of 6-3 Michelle and, later, 6-4 Morgan. The lineup also will feature 6-3 sophomore Ashley Cimino, who was limited by injury early last season, as well as 6-1 senior Jillian Harmon.

Jill is returning from several months of international play on New Zealand’s Olympics team. “If you’re an Olympics player, it helps your confidence,” Tara said, adding that Jill was impressed by the great shape of her teammates and opponents. “That experience will be very valuable for Jill,” she said.

For guard play, the team will be looking to senior Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, juniors JJ Hones and Melanie Murphy, sophomores Jeanette Pohlen and Hannah Donaghe, and freshmen Grace Mashore and Lindy La Rocque.

After Sunday’s first meeting, the team was to begin pre-season practices on Tuesday, Sept. 16. By NCAA rules, those practices are limited to eight hours a week with the coaches – two hours on the court and six hours of strength and conditioning. “They also have to work out on their own,” Tara said. Regular practices begin Oct. 17. FBC members may attend an open practice Oct. 18 at Maples. The exhibition season starts Nov. 1.

Tara has already said that this year’s schedule will be the toughest she has seen during her years at Stanford. “Whoever did our schedule was crazy,” she joked Sunday. “I probably won’t get much sleep this season.”

“There’s a definite sense of urgency” as the season starts. There will be a big void without Candice, leaving some questions: Who’ll take the shots? Who’ll be the leader?

One thing’s for sure. “We can be big.” Moreover, the team “is looking very good,” Tara said. “We’re gonna have fun.”

September 09, 2008

Lynx vs. Monarchs

Story: Judy Richter
Photos: Don Anderson & Dave Cortesi

It could have been called Stanford night Sept. 7 when the Sacramento Monarchs hosted and defeated the Minnesota Lynx 78-71 as the WNBA entered its last week of competition.

In the stands at Arco Arena were 126 Fast Break Club members plus other Stanford women’s basketball fans who had journeyed to Sacramento on a hot Sunday afternoon to watch two of the program’s most illustrious alumnae -- forward Nicole Powell, ’04, of the Monarchs and guard Candice Wiggins, ’08, of the Lynx.

Seated on the sidelines across from the Stanford section were coach Tara VanDerveer and junior center Jayne Appel. They both watched the game closely and appeared to comment on it with each other.

The game also had an Olympics flavor with two players from this year’s gold medal-winning USA team -- guard Kara Lawson of the Monarchs and forward Seimone Augustus of the Lynx. VanDerveer, who was introduced to the crowd, added to the Olympics flavor, having coached the USA team to a gold medal in 1996.

“She’s the best coach in the world,” said Ruthie Bolton, a member of that USA team as well as the 2000 gold medal team. A former Monarchs player, she now works for the Monarchs’ organization. She was speaking to the FBC at a dinner in the arena preceding the game. Citing some gems of VanDerveer’s advice, Bolton added, “She’s an amazing person who really helped me a lot.”

Bolton also had some good words about Wiggins: “She plays every possession like it’s the last.”

FBC member Otis Watson arranged the event with the Monarchs after he and others realized that the game would be the only time the two teams would meet within a reasonable distance of the Bay Area.

Besides the short talk by Bolton, the pregame dinner featured a raffle for Lynx and Monarchs items signed by their respective Stanford grads.

The menu included hot dogs with the usual trimmings, chicken tenders, cookies, popcorn and soft drinks – not even a salad to appease vegetarians.

Although I have watched WNBA games on TV, this was my first in person. Here’s part of my notes: “LOUD, LOUD.” Luckily I had earplugs, which I carry in my purse to protect my hearing at some musical theater productions, but I felt sorry for other fans. I also wondered about the effect on the players and coaches who have to endure the din game after game. Not only is there loud music during timeouts, but the beat continues during the game itself and distracts from the action. We can only hope that college venues don’t follow suit.

As for the game itself, veteran Powell is a starter for the Monarchs, but rookie Wiggins traditionally comes off the bench fairly early in the game, then plays significant minutes thereafter. This one was no exception. She entered the game with 4:53 left in the first quarter – much to the delight of the Stanford contingent. Her first basket was negated by an offensive foul on a teammate. The first quarter ended 20-13 in the Monarchs’ favor.

The first Wiggins basket that counted came in the second quarter, when she made one of her patented drives between defenders. Defensively, she focused mainly on Lawson.

The half ended with the Monarchs again on top 36-32. By then Powell had scored nine points.

Both Wiggins and Powell made significant contributions in the second half. Powell ended as the game’s high scorer with 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 27.56 minutes. Wiggins contributed 13 points and three assists in 31.37 minutes. The final score was 78-71 in the Monarchs’ favor, knocking the Lynx out of playoff contention in the WNBA’s western division but keeping the Monarchs’ hopes alive for the fourth and final spot in the division.

After the game, Stanford fans returned to the reception area to await a visit by Powell, who was delayed by the demand for interviews after her game-leading performance. Wiggins couldn’t make it because the Lynx had to leave right after the game and travel to San Francisco for a red-eye flight. (Unlike the Stanford team, which usually enjoys charter flights, WNBA teams fly commercial.)

As the crowd dwindled, Powell finally arrived. “Before there was Candice Wiggins, there was Nicole Powell,” Watson said in his introduction. Powell answered a few audience questions, speaking fondly of her Stanford experience. She then noted that she and another Stanford alum, center Kristin Newlin, ’07, will be teammates on a Turkish team in Istanbul during the offseason.

Next up for the FBC: the Sept. 14 wine tasting in Palo Alto.

September 08, 2008

Pac-10 Outlook

The Pac-10 has published a review of last season's women's basketball and the outlook for this season.

Their summary of the outlook for the Cardinal: "... Wiggins will surely be missed. However, until another team can knock them off, the Cardinal is still the team to beat in the Pac-10." Read more...

Bob Kinder will soon be sharing with us his views of Pac-10 action. Watch for new postings to his blog.

September 05, 2008

Tara ready for toughest season ever

Today Tara announced the official 2008-09 schedule, and summed it up as "... the toughest that we have ever faced in my time here at Stanford. Once again we will be facing some of the toughest competition around the nation, both at home and on the road. I feel that what doesn't break you makes you, and this schedule will prepare us well for the postseason and what we hope will be another chance to play for the national championship."

Here is the complete announcement and the schedule. Except for some additional or changed game times, the schedule is the same as the tentative one we posted here on the FBC website in June.